Where Can You Play Elephant Polo?

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Courtesy Anantara Resorts

Field of giants: The action at last year's King's Cup

Beginning in the late 1980s, many of Thailand's elephants were decommissioned from laboring as timber haulers. So what's a retired pachyderm to do but play a little polo? From March 23 to 29, the Anantara luxury resort in northern Thailand's Golden Triangle will host the annual King's Cup, a matchup in which elephants replace the more traditional horses. Ten teams fielding players from around a dozen countries will be competing trunk to trunk. In case you're wondering, the tournament is sanctioned by the World Elephant Polo Association, which set game regulations in 1982. (Two key rules: elephants are not allowed to lie down in front of the goal, and they must resist the temptation to pick up the ball with their trunks.)

For hotel guests who want to join the action, the Anantara and the neighboring Four Seasons Tented Camp will field show teams that will play each other without disturbing competitive play. The tournament's proceeds go to charity, and so far the Cup has raised $200,000 for the National Elephant Institute, which ministers to Thailand's 3,000-plus domesticated Elephas maximus. One year's money covered the construction of a custom-made pachyderm ambulance. (See 10 things to do in Hong Kong.)

The rest of the year, the Anantara and the Four Seasons, which are nestled in the lush forests near Thailand's border with Burma and Laos, collaborate on the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. The sanctuary and hotel properties are home to around 30 elephants, all of which might otherwise be languishing as street beggars. Often, soliciting snacks from urbanites and tourists is the only way an owner can cover the cost of feeding an animal that in the wild eats up to 550 lb. (250 kg), or around 5% of its body weight, each day. (Foreigners may thrill at the sight of an elephant plodding past high-rises, but a smoggy metropolis is not a natural habitat for creatures unused to cars or open manholes.) Hotel guests who want to sponsor an elephant can volunteer about $1,000 a month for the animal's upkeep. The donation covers not only vet bills but also the salary of the beast's mahout, or elephant handler. And, of course, a never-ending supply of bananas. (See pictures of Singapore.)

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